Walking the walk

This week’s Design File is on the stiletto heel. But shoes aren’t on my mind today. It is exactly one year since my novel Not Always To Plan was published. I think I will always remember that day because it was the moment I could truly call myself a writer. Although a previous book on feng shui had been bought by a Melbourne publisher some years back, it was dropped prior to publication as the market for that kind of book began to recede. I was devastated. My agent at the time told me that writing novels was too difficult and a world away from writing non-fiction but I knew it was fiction that I really wanted to write.

I changed agents and the wonderful Lyn Tranter found a home for Not Always To Plan. Lyn is a true gift to writers in that she is an honest critic. Before signing me up, she read my manuscript and then sent it back with copious notes covering each page. Along with detailed questions and suggestions were some that made me laugh out loud. One of the best was ‘who cares!’ after a meandering section. I was astonished and delighted. Every writer wants (and certainly needs) honest feedback.




Writing a novel is such a long process. It takes time to write, of course. I love editing my material. Then it’s ready to be released to a few trusted readers who you know will give you their honest feedback. Then off it goes to your agent who might make a few more suggestions. Next stop, publishers and the long wait for one to give more than an outline of all the wonderful things in the novel…and then say they don’t want it.  When it’s accepted then there are discussions about how it will be marketed, who it will appeal to, what the cover should look like. It’s assessed by a external reader and then an editor is appointed to work on every word with you (and I mean every single word). A couple more drafts and then someone goes through the final manuscript, looking for any final typos and grammatical errors. Phew.

By the time the novel is launched, you’ve virtually forgotten that feeling of starting the day with a blank page, the words not quite formed, about to enter a space that it is almost beyond consciousness.



Last week I went to hear an interview with Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief. He’s an utterly charming and self-effacing sort of bloke. When he talked about his writing process, I was pleased to find how much it accorded with my own. I think a few are worth repeating:

  • he carries a notebook with him everywhere, often filling them with endless chapter headings.
  • a day of good writing is often followed by a day or two of feeling quite low (the yin to the yang of creativity, I think).
  • when he’s on a roll, he’s not bothered by his surroundings and any noise. That only happens when he’s not writing well.
  • he doesn’t feel the urge to read widely but he will often read a book several times to really grasp its structure.
  • he edits as he goes because then he knows exactly where he is and can control the momentum.
  • the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ is not always true. But if you’re in doubt, then show.
  • He’s not a dedicated people-watcher or an eavesdropper on conversations on the bus – when he’s writing then he’s in his own world.

It was good to hear a successful writer (over 400 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list) share his process. There was nothing remotely unusual about it and that ordinariness is what resonated with me. We’re all different and all the same.

Today of all days I am pleased to say I am just another writer.


Categories: WritingTags: , , , ,


  1. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I read the wonderfully witty, ‘Not Always to Plan’ in one sitting – it was just so moreish!! My favourite line remains that the daughter saw herself as a ‘thesaurus of flaws’ in her mother’s eyes.

    Great post – really helpful insight for any thinking of going down the fiction route.

    How do you feel about the book from this vantage point, Autueur?!

  2. Thanks for that lovely feedback. And that’s the greatest pleasure of all, when someone tells you how much they enjoyed what you’ve written. Although I do enjoy critiques as well! A year on, I’m so deeply immersed in what I’m writing at the moment that I hardly look back to that novel – it’s eyes forward at this point. But having that novel ‘under my belt’ means that I don’t spent time worrying if I’m good enough to be published, which can really kill your creativity. I know the process and just get on with it now.

  3. Colin, such a joy to find that you have a blog (yes, I know, I am slow to discover these things sometimes!). Love the idea of carrying a notebook around with you at all times. Clearly I now to seek out a copy of your book!

  4. What a great post, it’s always nice to hear about how other writers work. What an incredible journey you’ve been on as a writer already! 🙂

    • Thanks for your lovely comment. Yes, I love hearing how other writers ‘do’ it, too. I remember Lynne Truss (“Eats, Shoots and Leaves”) saying that she always thought writers belonged to a club that she might never join. It can seem that way but the joy of writing is knowing that you really cannot do anything different. We just have to write!

  5. I so agree about honest feedback, and appreciate yours in a recent comment at my blog. Thanks for following! I also enjoyed your post about soundtracks. I’m eclectic when it comes to music appreciation and background ambiance when writing. So when asked, I reply with either “eclectic” or “soundtrack” as my favorite genre.

    • Glad that was helpful. I know how much I like (need!) good criticism and how it can help shift the creative block. Thanks for your comment about my post. Yes, soundtracks are brilliant these days and give such a wide variety of music. I confess that my tastes vary widely, from the truly great to the truly naff so I think I’ll adopt your ‘eclectic’ answer now. Very useful!

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